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Episode 78: Reimagining Waste & Sustainability with Covanta (Transcript)

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[00:00:00] Liz Bothwell: Hi everyone, welcome to Waste360's NothingWasted! Podcast. On every episode, we invite the most interesting people in waste recycling and organics to sit down with us and chat candidly about their thoughts, their work, this unique industry and so much more. Thanks for listening and enjoy this episode.

[music]

[00:00:26] Liz: Hi everyone. This is Liz Bothwell from Waste360 with Derek Veenhof, Executive Vice President of Asset Management for Covanta. Welcome, Derek, and thanks for being on the show today.

[00:00:38] Derek Veenhof: Liz, thank you for the opportunity to be on the show. It's a great day today.

[00:00:43] Liz: Awesome. We usually start in the beginning, so I'd love to hear about your background and how you ended up at Covanta.

[00:00:50] Derek: Oh my goodness. I've been here a long time, actually. I think I've racked up now 24 years in the energy from waste business as part and parcel of Covanta. My roots are actually out of Canada, which is where I grew up. I never once envisioned that I would be in the waste business, quite honestly. I grew up on a dairy farm in Southwestern Ontario and went to an agricultural college for about eight years. That's an extended stay in an agricultural college. I did an undergraduate degree in environmental science and then, I actually ended up doing a master's degree in soil mechanics and soil physics.

At the time, there were some waste management projects that I was involved in, that some other researchers were working on. I was a project scientist with those folks as well and I swore, at the time, that I would never enter the waste business. Funny story, was about a year after I graduated with my master's degree. I ended up starting to work for a division of W.R Grace, which it's a big publicly-traded company up in Canada that had a focus in a small niche group of scientists that were working on bioremediation. I immediately went from saying I wasn't going to be in the waste business to being in the waste business. A short time later, actually a year or so later, [inaudible 00:02:29] joined Covanta at the time. This was another company called American Ref-Fuel which Covanta purchased in 2005.

Back in 1996, I joined this company American Ref-Fuel as a waste manager. I was responsible for procuring waste for one of the plants that we run today. It's a sizable asset, it's 800,000 tons a year and it had just undergone a retrofit. It was quite an exciting time up there in Niagara Falls, New York. That's where I learned the business, so to speak. I spent six years in Niagara, a very complex plant. It's a plant where we sell steam. I got to do some steam deals. It was heavily into the merchant waste market in Western New York, and up in the Toronto market, so I got to learn about markets.

Then, from there, I came down to Metro New York-- I think it was 2002. Yes, 2002, I came down to Metro New York and became the business manager for two of our assets. Our Hempstead plant in New York out on Long Island, it's a sizeable plant about a million tons a year. Also, our Essex plant in Newark, New Jersey, also about a million tons a year. I had my hands full coming down from Western New York into this New York City waste market. Which was a lot of fun, but I really had a good experience in learning the business in both of those locations.

Since then, I've managed to be lucky enough to move up the corporate ladder. I have varying responsibilities, but in essence, over the last four or five years, I think, I've had a responsibility for asset management. Which is broadly the plants themselves. All the energy from waste plants that we operate here in North America and the one plant in Dublin, in Ireland. Then, the waste transfers also fall under my jurisdiction. Energy also is now under my purview. That's quite complicated, just like the waste business is. That's my story.

[00:04:55] Liz: That's great. You're not alone, Derek, when you say you had very little intention of getting into the business and then, you ended up staying because it became your home. I've heard that so many times and I think it just speaks volumes about the industry itself.

[00:05:10] Derek: Yes. I like to tell people that, really, what I did was join urban agriculture. The [unintelligible 00:05:15] it's just getting rid of waste.

[laughter]

[00:05:20] Liz: So true [laughs].

[00:05:23] Derek: It's been interesting. It's always been a dynamic business. I like complexity and, certainly, the energy from waste business is quite complex, and the people in the waste business in general. I've been fortunate enough to be very externally focused with the customer base over the years, and it's always interesting. A lot of interesting people out there that I have had the opportunity to work with over the years and do a lot of business with, so it's been fun.

[00:05:55] Liz: I bet. It's such a fun industry. You've been doing this a long time and I'm sure you haven't seen anything quite like this pandemic. It seems like Covanta has fared pretty well. I've been on earnings calls and been following you guys, could you talk a little bit about the pandemic's impact on the business and the industry as a whole?

[00:06:15] Derek: Sure. Like everybody else, we started the year with high expectations on what was going to happen. I don't think anybody said, "By the way, this pandemic's going to hit the window in the early part of 2020." We really started gearing around the pandemic in late February. Our supply chain actually got a little bit in advance of a lot of the shutdown items in late February and started making plans around what-if scenarios.

We were, I think, very fortunate that the supply chain team here at Covanta actually was thinking pretty broadly about the what-ifs.

Then, of course, a lot of our business is done on this I-95 corridor from Boston to D.C. Which in March, basically the second week of March, a lot of that was getting shut down. I think our last day in the office was something like the 8th or 9th of March if I recall before we closed the corporate office. It happened really quick in the first couple of weeks of March for us at Covanta. For our business, we do a lot of scheduled outages for energy from waste plants. The maintenance work, we try to do in the shoulder months of the year, so March, April, May is very intensive around work in the plants where we're taking units offline and doing work on.

Of course, with COVID that really threw a monkey wrench into those plans. Because we were concerned about bringing contractors on-site, what kind of protocol did we have to go through to protect our employees at our facilities while they were performing an essential service, which the waste business really is and we are. We spent a lot of time thinking through like, "What do we need to do to protect our employees, to protect our contractors?" We ended up delaying a lot of that maintenance work early and then, rescheduling to later parts of the year. I think we really started back into it late April, early May where we were more tentative and very cautious about what we were doing, how we were doing it.

Now we have a lot of protocols around site-work and who gets to come on-site, and that's still in play at all of our facilities. I expect that that's going to continue until we had some break in the COVID, either in the form of a vaccine or everybody's best wish, which would be for COVID to just go away, which I don't anticipate happening anytime soon. On the wayside of the business, that also was complicated. We're fairly contracted. As a company, I'm sure you do know, Liz, as you pointed out, you've been following us for a while. We do a lot of work in these major municipalities, cities, and across the board.

Certainly, with the delay of outages in the early March-April time frame, and the decision that we would run but limit exposure for our employees, then we had wide-scale businesses basically shutting down, commercial waste volumes really dropped unexpectedly. We had to do a little bit of a scramble for about a month where we had to infill and change locations for where we were taking our transfer station waste, just to ensure supply. Fortunately for us, we're in pretty good locations and we have a great customer base that we were able to work with, shuffle things around, and get through that.

Over time, I think we saw the depth of volume loss around the middle of April. Like all the other waste companies, it seemed the volume started to build in the latter part of April and early May to the point where in July and August, we were basically back to, what I would call, almost normalized run rates. But, the commercial collectors out there, I'm sure their volumes are down. Based on what I've heard and read, anywhere from five to 25% loss in the commercial volume standpoint. We've been fortunate that we've been able to fill that with residential volumes. Our residential volumes are a little higher, so it's been a very unique experience. That's for sure.

[00:11:33] Liz: Definitely. It's unlike anything we've ever seen, but I'm glad to see that you are faring well and the industry as a whole, it's just so resilient. It's great to see.

[00:11:44] Derek: Yes. We've had some significant surprises as I'm sure everybody in the industry has. The one I'd like to always point to, which I never thought would happen, was we have a contract with New York City for a lot of the Manhattan waste, direct hall to our Newark plant in New Jersey. I never once envisioned that so many people would move out of Manhattan to other places in the country, so that was a very unique lens into COVID, quite frankly, and into how the world is changing around how people can work remotely, and be pretty mobile when they're given the decision or opportunity to go do so if they think it's in their best interest to do that. That was pretty eye-opening for me, and I'm sure would be for most people.

[00:12:41] Liz: Definitely. I know a lot of those New York City folks have probably- I know they've come up to Connecticut where I am and, I'm sure, where you are in New Jersey. We'll see even just industry-wise if it all evens out, residentially speaking. I know last I read it was more than 10,000 people had fled the city in a very short period of time.

[00:13:06] Derek: Yes. All I can tell you is I know from residential sales, which I follow in my local town in North Jersey, I know Connecticut's not anything any different. There certainly has been a lot of real estate that's moved, so it'll be interesting to see what happens with the vaccine, and if life stabilizes, what happens in the next phase.

[00:13:32] Liz: Definitely-

[00:13:32] Derek: I hope it gets [crosstalk]

[00:13:33] Liz: Yes, agree [laughs]. I know that also Covanta has been talking about Environmental Justice for a long time and it's definitely more than a buzzword for you guys. Can you tell me more about that? And how it impacts the communities that you serve?

[00:13:52] Derek: Yes. Certainly, this 2020 year has been eye-opening in many respects from a national and even international perspective on the Black Lives Matter item. Yes, Environmental Justice for us it's not a new topic. Maybe it has for people over the summer where it really became quite loud in many respects, but for us? We've been pretty active around this area as a company. It really started in what we think was the heart of Environmental Justice, which was down in Chester, Pennsylvania where we bought an asset in the late 1990s in the Chester community. It's a large facility. There were a lot of issues at that time around that plant with the previous owners.

The company made a very dedicated effort at that time to engage. We didn't have an Environmental Justice policy at that time, it was just like, "Hey, we need to engage with this community because they have a lot of questions, there's a lot of unsurety about what's happened. Here's this big plant within their community that they don't really understand, and know a lot about other than it has increased their truck traffic, and it seems like there's problems that historically, had been there under the previous ownership." We engaged, we had a couple of really key people that engaged for us at that time. The one gentleman I'm going to mention his name, he's now deceased, sadly, John Waffenschmidt. He was really a pioneer for us. It became his full-time role in the company was around Environmental Justice.

Ultimately, we developed what I think is and still is, not what I think, I know is a good relationship with that community, with some key members within that community, and with the city of Chester. Ultimately, led us to form this Environmental Justice policy that we've had since about 2011, I think we were one of the first companies in the country to actually really formally adopt a policy around this, which is really a policy around engagement, understanding, communication, openness, and transparency. There's a second part to it, which is, we, as a company, have an obligation, we're operating in these communities whether they're Environmental Justice communities, or not. We have stacks, which a lot of people are very uncertain about the stack. We say, internally, very much.

It's very prominent on the horizon everybody can look to it, and people get pretty nervous about smokestacks. Engagement is critical, we want to drive our emissions as low as we can get them. We've got a company commitment to continue to improve our emission profile. Even in our last sustainability report, we said, "Hey, we want to do five emission improvement projects for Covanta by 2023-time frame." Some of those five are actually underway right now, where we're, voluntarily, going ahead to reduce our emission profile as a commitment to being a good citizen in the places that we operate.

The waste industry, whether you're running a landfill, a transfer station, a recyclery [sic], or any other waste related item, there's a lot of eyes on you. We know that. Engagement in the community, and transparency is so key to long term success. We have some pretty good communities where we've done that very successfully, people have engaged back, and it makes it a lot more fun when you get engagement.  Then, we have a couple of other communities where the engagement maybe isn't as forthcoming. We keep trying, but people get pretty leery about big waste infrastructure, and it takes time to break down the barriers, especially around EJ.

[00:18:39] Liz: I bet. I feel like you've done a good job about that, and with that. I think you're right, transparency and communication is so key, and educating people on the reality of what's coming to their community, not what they've read, or heard. That's great.

[00:18:57] Derek: Yes. It's a complicated business, there's a lot of data, a lot of heavy science in what we do, it's very technical, even if you have a good technical mind, and you step into this business, it can be pretty overwhelming. You got to figure out a way to put the science in a way that people can understand, be comfortable, experience, get them into the plants. When we get people into the plants, I think we gain a lot from that, and they gain a lot from it too. They see the Covanta employees just like everybody else, and we've got longevity in our employee base.

People like being in this business, they like doing the right thing. When people cross the threshold into a plant and see that it opens their eyes, and says, "Hey, you don't need to be scared, just ask questions. We're trying to help you understand what we do, show you the benefits." As humans, we all produce waste, that's not changing anytime soon. The waste needs to be handled responsibly, doesn't matter what technology you're using in the waste industry, it needs to be done responsibly, and for people to understand that, it takes engagement.

[00:20:28] Liz: Definitely. I like the concrete way of you inviting the community in to actually see what's happening, that always helps. It hit home for people, I think.

[00:20:38] Derek: Yes, very much so.

[00:20:40] Liz: Derek, I know you've mentioned, even during our short time, talking how important waste energy is, and it's a core part of your business. I know your process has been described as a true closed-loop one, can you walk me through what that means?

[00:20:56] Derek: True, closed-loop. We take the product waste, household waste, municipal solid waste, non-hazardous, that's collected by municipalities or private collectors and we put it into a sophisticated boiler under sophisticated combustion control. Obviously, the carbon in that waste material gets combusted, we use that combustion heat to generate steam. These are boilers like industrial plants use boilers, we create the steam, and either we sell steam directly to end-users, or we convert the steam into electrons, and sell it into the grid. After the combustion process, you're left with residual, and the residual is ash, and usually, post-combustion metals, which could be ferrous metal, or non-ferrous metals like copper, aluminum, and other non-ferrous products.

If you've been following our company over the last several years, you do know the company's invested a lot in that recovery aspect of the residue, which, I think, on a go-forward basis is going to be increasingly important for our company as part of the closed-loop item. Let me backtrack for a second, and give you some good examples of closed-loop. We have one really good example, which is our Niagara Falls. New York plant, which I obviously know very well having spent so many years there. At Niagara Falls, the bulk of the energy that we create is put into two turbine generators, we produce some power. We also extract steam, but we sell to, I think is six industrial users on a steam line right around the plant.

If you could think about the perfect industrial setting where you had one energy host, a bunch of plants, other manufacturers situated around that, and drawing off that plant, that's a good mental picture to have. One of the key industrial users-- again, we have a bunch there. I'm going to pick on one, which is our largest customer, it's actually a linerboard mill, which is operated by a company called Greenpac, their entire company is in the [unintelligible 00:23:48] pack. The linerboard mill is obviously making a product for the cardboard industry, for the corrugated cardboard, the liner within the cardboard itself. What they do is they use recycled cardboard to make that product.

It's a perfect scenario where a waste company is taking the non-recyclable waste, producing steam. You have a recycling-oriented company making an end product that serves the recycling industry as a buyer of recycled product, and together we're able to make this product and basically have a loop system. Any waste that they make, we also can take into our plant.

We close the loop largely for them on a sustainability basis. We actually just got an award from a business intelligence group for that case study around Niagara, which is fantastic. The ash and metals recovery piece that we've been developing so much. Traditionally, our ash has gone to landfill for the most part, either as primary cover, beneficial use cover in a bunch of MSW landfills, or into an ash only monofil.

I think the holy grail for a lot of the energy from waste business for years has been we all recognize that there's more value in the ash than just putting it into the landfill, even as a beneficial use. What we've been able to ascertain through a lot of R&D, Research and Development, is there's a significant amount of metals that are contained in the ash, and they're small, they're micron sized pieces of metal. It largely prevented the use of ash, particularly, bottom ash because there was no real good technology to remove that metal. If you have a product that's contaminated with something else, it's hard to make into a real beneficial use aggregate.

Over the last bunch of years, we've been focused on, "Let's get that metal out of our ash", out of the bottom ash in particular. We've been developing this total ash processing concept where it's a wet treatment, we treat the ash, we're able to extract using a bunch of different technologies, both large metal and small micron size pieces of metal out of the material. Obviously, that has value. Particularly, non-ferrous metals.

When I talk about non-ferrous metals it ranges from the obvious ones like aluminum and copper, all the way down to the less obvious ones. If there's tiny bits of silver, or gold, or stainless within the waste, the boilers themselves, the furnace where we're combusting the waste in almost act to generate an ore. The technology we're using is really combining a bunch of technologies from the mining industry such that we can mine the ore, and the ore is the ash, pull the metals outs, and end up with some pretty clean aggregate products that can be reused. That's a closed-loop system.

[00:27:20] Liz: That's a great explanation, thank you. Congrats on that award, by the way.

[00:27:25] Derek: Thank you very much, a lot of hard work went into that. I want to congratulate our partners up there. Greenpac made a phenomenal decision several years ago to site the State-of-the-Art lander board mill in Western New York. Was a huge investment in the local economy, I think it was 500 million dollars of investment for the State-of-the-Art plant.

I think it's a fantastic story for Western New York and for the two companies. As an outlet for recycling, which we know right now in North America, we really don't have enough outlets for recycled product. When China closed with their policy change it created a lot of issues in the waste industry. To have places domestically that can use product and help the recycling industry, I think that's a great outcome for everybody.

[00:28:28] Liz: Yes, it definitely is. I have two questions based on what you've said. The first is, do you think energy from waste will be more widely adapted here in the US as we look toward more sustainable solutions? Do you think that trend is coming?

[00:28:45] Derek: I think from a science standpoint; the more people get comfortable with the science of modern energy from waste. Some people in the overseas call it incineration, we've traditionally shied away from that word, but we're also starting to use the word incineration now too from time to time. As people get more comfortable with the science and the benefits on displacement from a greenhouse gas perspective, it's a positive story from a greenhouse gas perspective despite the fact we have a smokestack.

I also think that there's other hurdles that exist in North America. One, energy is quite cheap here, we're blessed. In North America we have abundant natural gas, energy is quite cheap. It's one of the byproducts we create from our process. Is energy, it's being sold into a pretty cheap commodity market right now. There's a lot of space in North America from a land perspective. The industry has been fortunate to date that landfills have been able to site within a reasonable distance of where waste gets generated. I think that that's going to change over time.

It is changing, we're starting to see some markets where there are no new landfills being permitted. Look in New England, the state of Massachusetts certainly is one where they haven't sighted a landfill. I don't even know the number, it's a long time, might be my whole existence in the waste industry. They've been on this run rate of closing landfills in the state, and I think anywhere in the northeast, in particular, the waste industry is going to be susceptible to that. Then you end up with choices that you can make, which is you're going to move the waste much further away from where it was generated, and the complexity of that starts changing a lot. You have a bigger environmental footprint when you start moving waste a long way.

Not only that, but you have a significantly altered cost structure. Your transportation costs are going to change tremendously as well, they're going to increase. I think there's a time and a place for energy from waste I think that time and place is really still coming. Commodity markets are cyclical, as we've seen for many years, that predates my time in the business, at one time a barrel oil was a couple of hundred bucks. In the 70s oil crisis you couldn't even get gasoline, so you've got to have a mind that energy markets can be cyclical, there's downturns and then the upturns can be pretty wild.

I think there's a possibility that the upturn and what I call the changing energy dynamic, which is the electrification of transportation, really could alter what the electron is also worth. You have to have a long lens on the business, I think in North America that's certainly true. The technology is much more widely adopted in Europe, and as I'm sure you know, we're building a number of plants in the UK right now, we're not the only ones that are building plants in the UK right now. They traditionally wear a landfill-based waste management system in the UK, they're moving away from that, they've placed a large tax on landfilling.

Scandinavia has done the same thing most of Western Europe's done that and there's a lot more familiarity with the technology and actually places embrace the technology. The project that I like to look at as the most useful reminder of what community acceptance could look like is the new plan in Copenhagen, which has a ski hill on it, it has a climbing wall, it has a living vegetation wall up the size of a building, and it's become the hip part of town to actually have a restaurant in and whatnot. The community's really embraced it, it's just interesting to see the cultural differences when you look at that versus-- anything here in the waste business is tough, but certainly exciting new energy from waste plant here is also tough unless you have the right groundwork laid and the right leadership around it.

[00:33:43] Liz: True. That sounds really cool in Copenhagen.

[00:33:46] Derek: Yes, it's mind-boggling, actually, whenever I see the photos. We've had some people tour and they've said really interesting things. It goes to show you, you can't make projects, and even our new Dublin asset that we have a joint venture partnership. It's only a few years old, when you see that plant and the aesthetics of that plant it's cited in the port it's very visible because Dublin doesn't have a high-rise skyline. Most of the buildings are much more squat, so you can really see the plant and visually the plant is actually, I think, aesthetically quite pleasing and at times quite stunning. It looks so modern.

We actually light the plant, I don't know if you've seen that at all on our website, we actually light the plant at certain times of the year. At Christmas time it's lit as part of Dublin's celebration of the holiday season that we have, it's lit up in the holiday spirit. It makes for a pretty dynamic and a less threatening piece of infrastructure.

[00:35:04] Liz: Definitely, I love that. It proves that you're built right into the community and trying to make it lovely for everyone, which is always good. I know we've talked a little bit about recycling. You mentioned how hard it's been hit the last couple of years with the China bans and now COVID, for sure. I know this is a big question, but what do you think is the future of recycling, Derek? [chuckles]

[00:35:32] Derek: Now, that one is really complicated. Well, first of all, I do think a lot more thought has to go into product design, I think that is one of the keys. People are asking the waste business to do tremendous things, and we do recycling, we do it within the plants, I spoke about the metals and mining the ore, but we don't run any material recovery facilities, MRFs, as standalone projects. Other people in the waste business do that.

I think society is asking them to do a lot with the products that people put out on the curb. Most of them, the product design came as either fancy packaging to address the product up, to make it appealing to the consumer visually, or not a lot of thought was put into what kind of product they wanted to-- the casing of the product that they were selling, what they wanted around that. It could be cost basis or what have you that drove the decisions versus, "Hey, we have a product stewardship obligation here, how do we make this easier to reclaim in the waste system?" I think there's a good part of society really needs to think about what they want from that and we have to do some redesign of products to make it easier for the waste industry to reclaim them.

If we do that, I also think it becomes easier for the secondary industries that support recycling to site than to be economical. The linerboard mill up in Western New York that we work so closely with is great example to get a nice clean corrugated piece of cardboard coming from a recycler generally speaking, but not everybody gets access to those nice clean individual products. For those secondary businesses that are trying to make something from the recycled product, you got to give it to them in a way that makes it easier for them to make an end-use product that people find attractive and useful. I think there's that.

I also think that the industry -and I agree with this- a lot is has gone to a different kind of cost model which, if you're going to have a material recovery facility, these things are not cheap anymore, there's a lot of complicated equipment, there's a lot of maintenance. You have to have a cost of capital coming back and you have to take some of the risk of the actual commodity out of the cost structure. I know a lot of the companies have been moving away from a pure, "We'll take it and we'll take all that commodity risk on our back", and then you have something like what happened with China which a large part of the Western world was relying on for the product, all of a sudden that's gone away and they're like, "Well, I got to pay to get rid of this product that I just put all this work into." That obviously doesn't work.

I think it's a complicated web within the recycling industry, but I certainly support product re-engineering, and then also we need industry here in North America to take some of these products, and we need to support that. I think there's a lot of societal questions around that, we've got to address and allow that to happen because I think people are now expect recycling to just happen. When people just start expecting it's when they put the waste on the curb, they don't generally know where it goes and a lot of people don't really give it a lot of thought. As a society, we have to give it more thought if we're going to get to the right answer.

[00:39:39] Liz: Definitely. Like you said, the responsibility is with everyone, it's the designer, it's the manufacturer, the consumer, our industry. Everyone has to look at it to really come up with solutions, but I'm optimistic that it will happen, it's just going to take time.

[00:39:57] Derek: Yes, I think that's right. The industry, with the technology that they've embraced, has made leaps and bounds of progress over the last decade for sure. I think that that's going to continue, just like the technology that we're using. Moore's Law is ramping up everywhere and you're able to use technologies that you never thought you could or didn't exist, but technology development allows you to attack problems in a much different way than you once thought was available. Solution could be within the technologies itself.

[00:40:39] Liz: Absolutely. Challenges breed innovation, so we're definitely hitting that mark [laughs]

[00:40:47] Derek: Yes, that's true. We use that phrase a lot internally [chuckles] not in a good way.

[laughter]

[00:40:58] Liz: Forced innovation is a good thing too, right?

[00:41:02] Derek: Yes, exactly. The mother of all invention.

[00:41:05] Liz: Exactly. You really seem to have a proven record of working well with municipalities, any tips or secrets you want to share about that for our listeners? Because I know collaboration and being a good partner is a big challenge for many people.

[00:41:24] Derek: Yes, we have a lot of experience with municipal partners. The business is really fundamentally based around that relationship. Advice, well I think my advice that I give internally to new recruits and people from the outside that are entering the business, within a private company your thoughts on a solution actually can come together really quickly. You have this innovation and necessity that's driving it.

On the municipal side with the municipal partners it's a different process, and you have to have a fair element of patience around timing, around what is realistic to get done? You have a lot of factors that push on your external partners that you don't see within the waste company itself. There's election time frames, they have their own budgets that they've got to manage, they have procurement rules, they have people that change other roles and then that can cause a setback in terms of relationships.

I would tell you the number one thing you need is patience, and then the second thing is the vision aspect. You really need to make sure that you're balancing both sides of the equation. When I say that I mean you really have to put yourself on the other side of the business arrangement, try to appreciate and try to see what can work on that side versus what you think works for your side. It's not always a pleasant journey, don't get me wrong, it can be at times pretty frustrating for both sides but I think you have to approach it with an open mind and at times, probably, with an open heart and say, "I really want to do the best thing here, what's the best thing?"

Sometimes on the other side the best thing is, "What's my lowest price?" Not necessarily always the best thing. At times, that's the way the market rules, but not always is that the best thing. It's a delicate balance, you have to have patience, you have to have a vision of what makes sense longer-term, design for a long-term, let's make it easy for everybody. That would be my advice, never easy.

[00:44:21] Liz: No, it's not easy. I think that's great advice you do. You do have to have an open mind and open heart. I remember someone on this show once told me, "You have to enter it knowing that these municipalities have a million things on their mind and the waste and recycling industry is a very small part of that", so know that they're coming in [laughs] with that and you can appreciate their time even more.

[00:44:47] Derek: Yes, well imagine if you're trying to balance a budget right now on the municipal side. You have police, firefighting, waste management is a huge item on their expense side. I think most elected officials and staff, they're challenged in that regard, they're like, "I need to cut costs because I have all these other services that people expect us to do, how do I balance it?" Particularly now with COVID, the pandemic and a lot of business uncertainty on a go-forward basis, the waste industry is really going to have to look hard at it, like, "Okay, how do we make this work for our partners on the municipal side in a way that's productive and we're not fighting each other over the end objectives?" It's a difficult task.

[00:45:50] Liz: Yes, it is. Well, this has been great Derek, is there anything else that you want to talk about before we end? I know I've asked you a lot [laughs].

[00:46:02] Derek: Yes, I've shared 24 odd years of my experience here in the energy from waste business, it's like when we started the conversation, it's been a lot of fun. The technical aspects of being in the waste business make it quite interesting. I hope that people that listen to this take the time to explore energy from waste. It's pretty fascinating, it's a lot more robust than I think a lot of people think. Over time technology is going to allow some of the things that people criticize our business about, our emissions, about the ash.

I think over time there's going to be solutions around that, that might surprise a lot of people and make it even more friendly than it already is as compared to the alternatives. Just like I said you got to approach your municipal partners with patience and an open heart and a vision, you got to look at our business and say, "This is complicated, but look what it does." I think if we can get more people saying that business is going to be fine. It's going to be great.

[00:47:27] Liz: I think you're right. I do hope that people do take the time to look into it, it's fascinating. I love how during this chat you've talked about the business side of it and the scientific side of it, and how it's good for the community. I think you've been great. What a great story, thank you for sharing today.

[00:47:48] Derek: Well, thank you Liz for having me as part of your podcast.

[00:47:52] Liz: Well, this has been awesome. Thank you so much, we'll be in touch soon.

[00:47:58] Derek: Okay, thanks, Liz.

[00:48:00] Liz: All right, thank you.

[00:48:01] Derek: Have a great day.

[00:48:03] Liz: You too bye.

[music]  

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